The British Council supported a competition around children’s literature that took place in the Hérault department in the South of France. Gail Ellis, one of our figureheads of English teaching at the British Council, spent an intense and rewarding day at the beginning of June in Montpellier as one of the judges of this innovative competition, "Autour d’un album".
Set up in 2012, the competition targets a broad age range from five to 11 years old, which shows that stories can be used with different ages as they can be interpreted at many levels. Each class competing creates its own story based on an original title in digital or paper and audio versions. The event is the initiative of Anne Igual, Head of the Centre Ressources Point Langues and Languages Adviser for the Département de l’Hérault. 48 classes participated with a total of 1,228 children. There were 40 entries in English, 4 in Spanish, 3 in German and one bilingual version in French and Chinese. Entries in Occitan are also an option.
An excellent storybook selected for the English language entries
The storybook selected for the competition this year was I want my hat back by Jon Klassen and published by Walker Books. The story is about a bear who has lost his hat. He patiently and politely asks fellow forest residents if they have seen his hat. Finally, he remembers where he last saw it. The text contains a lot of dialogue and repetition which makes it ideal for retelling and acting out. The graphic style illustrations support children’s understanding of the story and convey subtle humour. The illustrations are beautiful, clear and simple in earth tone colours which contrast with the bright red colour of the bear’s hat.
What to remember when organising story-based work
It is important to inform children at the start of their story-based work what the main outcome will be as this gives them a purpose and keeps them motivated and on task. The competition opens in December and ends in May and provides a perfect incentive and outcome for both children and teachers.
What are the benefits of children’s literature in language learning?
A key benefit of using children’s literature is that it is an extremely motivating resource for both children and teachers. It encourages children to enjoy language learning; it develops their visual literacy and fosters their appreciation of literature. The competition also provides opportunities for cross-curricular work linked to book-making, visual arts, IT and learning creatively and collaboratively.
I loved doing the illustrations and I learnt some long phrases in English (8 year-old)
It was great when our English Assistant told us the story because she imitated the animals so well (10 year-old)
I loved it when we recorded our voices to convey the anger of the bear and the rabbit trembling with fright (6 year-old)
They took this project so much to heart. Next year I will begin with a project like this, as they haven’t stopped asking to do English. Listening to a recording of oneself in English is so empowering for them (teacher of 10 year-olds)
The illustrative style of several of the entries was inspired by famous artists such as Jackson Pollock, Vassily Kandinsky, Edvard Munch, Henri Matisse, Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso as well as Australian Aboriginal art. One of my favourites, I want my bobble hat back, set in the Pyrenees Mountains, combines photography and Jon Klassen’s illustrations of the bear.
There were many other examples ‘in the style of’ I want my hat back. Here are just a few - I want my crown, didgeridoo, ball, bone, shell, lollipop, cheese, boomerang, shoes, kilt, scarf, back, and for the older children, I want my phone back! The competition allows children and teachers to exercise their imagination.
What impressed me so much was the commitment and investment from both children and teachers to produce such high quality entries – all of this on top of a busy curriculum. Each entry is a whole-class effort and the children’s motivation for language learning and pride in their final product shine through via the originality of the book-making projects, the illustrations and recordings of the stories. The competition provides children with a real purpose for language practice with a strong focus on pronunciation and intonation.
As we can see, the competition provides evidence of the great impact it has on language learning, teaching and motivation.
I would love to hear from you about your favourite storybook titles. If you would like to find out more about using a story-based approach you can download the following publication and read the blog.